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Satabank depositors have taken to physically waiting outside its St Julian’s headquarters in a desperate bid to find out what will happen to their money.

Malta’s financial watchdog on Saturday announced it had ordered the bank to stop all account movements, meaning depositors were unable to access their money.

Speaking to the Times of Malta outside Satabank’s office, a young Italian businessman who owns an IT start-up said he had not slept for three days after hearing the news.

“I have done nothing wrong. If the bank has internal problems, it is not fair that ordinary clients are made to suffer,” the businessman, who preferred to remain anonymous, said.

“My account is blocked. I cannot receive or send any payments or even access internet banking.

“My business is only surviving because I have explained the situation to my clients and they have been understanding. I can’t even pay for food at the moment.”

In reply to questions by Times of Malta, a spokesman for the Malta Financial Services Authority said the regulator was “acutely aware” that several Satabank clients were trying to access and use their funds, particularly companies that needed money for operational reasons.

“The MFSA is actively looking into the matter to find a practical solution to minimise the inconvenience as much as possible,” he said.

E-money accounts, one of the products offered by Satabank, were not covered by the depositor compensation scheme, the spokesman said.

The Italian businessman who spoke to the newspaper said Satabank was the only bank willing to open an account for him.

“It has become impossible for foreigners to open a bank account in Malta, even if they run a clean and legitimate business”, he said.

The MFSA has announced that Ernst and Young (EY) have been appointed to administer the bank’s assets in the best interests of depositors.

For the Italian businessman, his ordeal with Satabank would probably lead him to relocate his start-up to another country.

An Israeli entrepreneur, who claimed to have over €1 million in a corporate account for a company he runs in the gaming industry, said this experience with Satabank had likely killed his business.

“I have not been able to send money to my affiliates. My business here is probably ruined,” he said while waiting restlessly outside the bank and exchanging stories with other account holders there.

Satabank clients have been asked to fill in a form providing details about their holdings at the bank.

A source familiar with the bank’s operations said Satabank and EY were assessing which of its clients were at the highest risk of suffering immediate financial consequences from the block on all accounts.

The source said the MFSA’s actions at Satabank were not down to liquidity concerns. This was confirmed by the MFSA spokesman, who said the bank continued to meet its capital and liquidity requirements.

Satabank has been on the radar of both the MFSA and the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit since the beginning of the year. A joint inspection by the two entities concluded that there were significant weaknesses in the bank’s anti-money laundering procedures.

One British pensioner, who told the Times of Malta he had over €300,000 in life savings deposited at the bank, said it was bizarre how the regulator made ordinary depositors suffer for the bank’s problems.

Chronicles of Monte Friesner - Financial Crime Analyst  

Courtesy of the Times of Malta